final project proposal
Final Project Proposal
When I was in middle school, I started to read comics. It’s a habit I’ve kept up pretty inconsistently since then, in terms of actually going into the store and purchasing them, but it’s never been one I’ve felt ashamed of or wanted to stop. There’s something about the highly stylized, totally absurd world of superheroes that has always appealed to me - the way their stories are able to tackle issues using fantastical allegories and storytelling tricks that wouldn’t be acceptable in “real literature”.
I was thrilled when we began examining in class the ways that this kind of narrative allows us to think more deeply, and more visually, about representation issues and how and if stories are gendered. However, most of what we focused on was graphic novels that have received their social stamp of mainstream approval - books that you would enter a comic shop specifically looking for, not the kind you mindlessly grab off the shelf. I’m interested in that latter category, because I think that while this medium has a lot to say, it’s being stifled in its most traditional form. The culture of “mainstream” comics is not a welcoming one to people who are not straight, white, or male, and despite some improvements it is still moving incredibly slowly in this regard. It is so blatantly a boy’s club that it becomes even more important and necessary to analyze, and improve, the state of representation within it.
High culture is what we study, popular culture is what we consume when we’re done studying, and what we see within it affects us in pervasive ways we can’t even be completely aware of. My central question, then, is how the framework of the comics industry prevents real diversity of characters and readership by confining women, people of color, and people with disabilities to roles that are outdated even in other forms of popular media, and the few exceptions to this rule.
I have a lot of female friends who read comics too, and talking to them, despite our various backgrounds, our experiences when purchasing comics/entering into the social sphere of the comic book store, has been almost universally uncomfortable or negative. To quote a friend of mine, “There’s nothing like the silence when a girl walks into a comic book store.” I wish they were exaggerating, but I’ve seen and experienced this for myself countless times. I don’t think it’s true of every store, everywhere, but I do think it’s true for many of them, to the point where it’s an acknowledged issue in the feminist media (http://girl-wonder.org/map/). Why is something like this, now, still required? It’s seems completely bizarre to imagine someone making a map of female-friendly mainstream video stores, or bookstores. The only other comparison I can think of would be female-friendly sex/porn shops.
There’s something threatening to the old guard of the comics industry about any signs of gender change, to the point where the constant killing off of female/non-white/disabled/queer characters in the fictional world intersects with silencing and marginalizing of groups deserving of representation in the real one. Mainstream comics become a battleground, and so artists and writers go elsewhere, to independent comics, to get their stories told. (Also, women apparently only want to read comics like this: http://jezebel.com/5207676/marvel-divas-because-nothing-says-superhero-like-hot-sudsy-fun) Major industry heads have been quoted as saying that comics are about white men because they’re written by white men, but in an industry that pushes out its creative talent outside of a certain box, of course that is going to be true.
For my project, I’d like to examine how all of these things intersect, as well as why the issue of representation in mainstream popular culture is as important, or more important, than in other areas. I am not exactly sure how I am going to go about this yet (so I am looking for suggestions), but I definitely want to take advantage of both academic and web texts and visual resources. I plan to go to the local comic book store and examine what is on the shelves right now, as well as asking what people are buying before starting my analysis/paper, in order to get a better idea of the context I’m working in.
The two most prominent feminist comics resources on the web:
The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines by Mark Madrid (Exterminating Angel Press, 2009)
Homosexuality in Comics (Comic Book Resources) http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=10795